Over the past decade, solar electricity costs have decreased by 87 percent. Meanwhile, solar battery storage costs have dropped by 85 percent. Other fossil-free technologies, such as wind power and heat pumps, are also experiencing significant price reductions.
A recent study compared this real-world data with traditional model-based scenarios on climate transition. The study revealed the emergence of new, more affordable pathways. Although the battle against climate change remains a major political challenge, there are now cheaper options available.
The study, conducted by the MCC (Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change) in Berlin, was published in Energy Research & Social Science.
The research team suggests that it is possible to achieve a good quality of life with significantly less energy consumption. Some estimates even indicate that solar energy and other renewable sources could cover the entire global energy demand in 2050, at a reasonable cost.
Felix Creutzig, the lead author of the study, concedes that this is an extremely optimistic scenario. However, it does demonstrate the potential of scientific innovation. For climate models to be accurate, they must reflect technological advancements as much as possible.
The research indicates that the climate transition may deviate from current expectations. Experts currently project that large amounts of coal will continue to be burned in the future, with resulting CO2 being captured and stored underground. However, we could break free from coal much sooner than expected.
For instance, the study shows that batteries already cost less than $100 per kilowatt hour. According to Tech Xplore, researchers had previously believed that battery storage prices would not drop that low until well into the 2030s.
Additionally, the price premium for battery storage, which allows for flexible utilization of solar power, is expected to decrease from the current 100 percent to only 28 percent by 2030.
The closure of existing coal plants and their replacement with hybrid solar-battery systems is being seen among leading electricity suppliers as a means to maximize energy output. Projections indicate that by 2050, there will be twice as much solar energy available worldwide as compared to coal. Furthermore, a significant portion of private investments in energy capacity are now focused on fossil-free alternatives.
Despite this, political and economic factors often hinder governments from fully transitioning away from coal and towards renewables. Potential losses of jobs and tax revenue are especially big challenges.
The study also explains why battery storage is getting cheaper. Granular technologies, which allow for the combination of simple elements, are rapidly advancing in the battery, solar, heat pump, and wind turbine sectors.
New scenario models, currently under exploration, are expected to demonstrate that the global energy transition may be less costly than previously assumed. The energy transition could even result in cost savings, provided appropriate actions are taken.
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